Bored, tired and after drinking much gin – basically my natural state of being – I scrolled through some tweets last night to discover Peter Murphy of Tax Research Uk ask a question which has been bugging me for a while: “Where did this absurd myth that the government’s money is ‘ours’ come from?”
Some of the replies were bizarre, with the notion that once taxes go to the government the money is still ‘ours’ being prevalent. There’s an important distinction to make here; the money is not ours, it’s the government’s. But we did pay it. Therefore the natural reaction should be to view the taxes we pay as dues or membership fees. The money isn’t ours, but we do pay it, so we should expect it be used properly and hold our representatives to account in order that they spend it wisely.
Some, of course, go further than simply to claim that government’s money is ours and extend the argument to say taxes are bad, and as such are something to be avoided… thus justifying actions like those of Google, Amazon, Starbucks et al. But taxes, as all us right thinking progressives know, are good. Without them, there’s no government, no government and there’s no society. And by society I mean all of it. It’s not just a matter of a state that exists to defend property rights, provide courts and justice; the taxes we pay go towards making us a society complete with schools to (in theory) give us all a good start in life and the chance to succeed. It means support when we’re old or ill, or when (as often happens) the magical free-market fails.
I was watching ‘The Walking Dead’ (zombie apocalypse series) whilst these thoughts were going through my head, trying to think how to frame the benefits of the state and thus of taxes (as the two go hand in hand). As I watched the band of survivors struggle to survive in this post-apocalyptic world I envisaged myself in their situation thinking what I would do. I imagined how I might irk out a living, barricaded in somewhere, occasionally scavenging for what I needed to survive. Hard, but manageable, I surmised, so long as I was lucky. But what if I wasn’t? What if I got ill? Or what if I was successful, and survived well into old age… what then?
Society, the state, it provides for those situations (not the zombie one, in fact, if I’ve learnt anything from watching zombie films it’s that governments are usually terribly ill-prepared to counter the living dead). When you break your leg you don’t go round the hospital helping yourself to medication and bandages because they’re ‘yours’ (‘your’ taxes bought them after all) (plus I imagine on a broken leg you’d have trouble overpowering the staff…). You sit back, let the doctors do their thing and thank god you live in a country where we have the means to treat such an ailment.
Taxes are good, the only question is what you get for them. And, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. If you pay low taxes, chances are you end up with services hardly worth having. If you pay properly though, and ask all in society (major multinationals especially…) to pay their dues… well, you end up with more than a collection of services, you end up with a government and society you can be proud to be part of.